Freedom Like You’ve Never Heard Before

liberty

21 Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. 22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; 24 for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. 25 But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.

                                                                                                           – James 1:21-25

I found this in James earlier this week, and something caught my eye. At first it was the word perfect, but then I looked at liberty and all but forgot perfect. But first, why  don’t you go ahead and read the first two chapters of James so you have some context to what we’ll be talking about today.

The word in the original Greek text (Strongs G1657 – click on the word for a lexicon entry) is ἐλευθερία–or for those of you who don’t actually read Greek it transliterates to eleutheria – it translates to “liberty” all of the 11 times it is used in the New Testament. The image above is the entry in Thayer’s Greek Lexicon for this word, and I’ll tell you why liberty excites me so much.

The first and lengthier entry follows so:

a. liberty to do or to omit things having no relation to salvation (1 Cor 10:29); from the yoke of the Mosaic law, (Gal 2:4; 5:1,13; 1 Pet 2:16) from Jewish errors so blinding the mental vision that it does not discern the majesty of Christ, (2 Cor 3:17) freedom from the dominion of corrupt desires, so that we do by the free impulse of the soul what the will of God requires … i.e. the Christian religion, which furnishes that rule of right living by which the liberty just mentioned is attained, (Jas 1:25; 2:12) freedom from the restraints and miseries of earthly frailty … manifested in the glorious condition of the future life, (Rom 8:21)

The second, and much shorter entry is simply:

b. fancied liberty, i.e. license, the liberty to do as one pleases, (2 Pet 2:19)

Now let’s take this new concept of liberty back to the context and see what James was talking about. Take a look back at James 1:25 again:

25 But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.

Perfect law of liberty. The reason this phrase piqued my interest at all in the first place is because until now I’d believed James to be quite traditional, and here we have a law, right in the middle of James’ letter clung to by traditional thinkers for his pro-works message, but it doesn’t sound very traditional! He appears to be saying that people who do whatever they want–even if they put aside every scripture unrelated to salvation–and simply follow their desires, are blessed.

Wait a minute. You might say. Who’s gonna keep them in line?

Well, let me introduce you to something–rather Someone–John the Beloved calls The Word:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend[a] it. – John 1:1-5

Verses 14-18 go on to declare:

14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

15 John [the Baptist] bore witness of Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me is preferred before me, for He was before me.’”

16 And[e] of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.18 No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son,[f] who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.

From this–not to mention the rest of the book of John–we know that Jesus is the Word become flesh and Jesus the logos–the very spoken word of God–declares the Father. So what does James say about this Word? Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. (1:21) but it’s not enough to just hear. It’s not enough to sit through church every week–it’s not even the same! 

22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; 24 for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. (1:22-24)

I can just hear the urgency–but be DOERs of Jesus, not just HEARERs; you’re just fooling yourself otherwise; you have no sense of your identity outside of Christ. And the method? Looking into the perfect law of liberty and continuing in it. The real question now is what is the perfect law of liberty and how do we do it? If I were to put what I’ve learned so far into a basic statement I would say that the law of liberty can be summed up as simply being true to our desire; does that sound like the life of a Jesus-doer? I believe it is, so much so that I would say it is the crux of living in the New Covenant.

Does it still seem like there’s a missing piece to the puzzle–like how we are going to keep people on the straight and narrow with a law that lets them do whatever they want? You’re right, but it’s not like that. If you still think there’s something missing, or that this law sounds like chaos, you may not have understood the gospel or what Christ did on the cross. Colossians 2 says this:

Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. For in Him [Christ] dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; 10 and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power. 11 In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins[c] of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.13 And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, 14 having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. 15 Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.16 So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, 17 which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ. (2:8-17)

The New Covenant’s life in Christ involves total transformation; you can’t enter into the law of liberty without being cut off from your old self and implanted, as James says, with Jesus’ spirit. Salvation is of utmost importance to liberty because salvation produces liberty. There would be no good desire in us unless Christ cut our sinful nature away. And with the Spirit of God in us, there is no longer need for that old covenant system of doing things, because as Galatians 5 declares, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. It should never be a bad thing for people full of the Spirit to do whatever they desire, because what they desire is what God desires. I believe we continue in the law of liberty, the new covenant law of love, by remaining true to His desire in us, and following His voice.

The perfect law of liberty, salvation and the new covenant–it’s all about freedom: freedom not to be used as a pretext to get away with doing wrong, but freedom to be who we were created to be. Scandalous freedom to do whatever we desire. Freedom to do what all true believers desire: the will of our Father.

A Second Helping of Grace

I’ve given up on trying to paraphrase a letter I wrote today regarding some of what I’ve been learning, so I’m just going to put it down like I said it the first time and revise from there. This is what I have been learning today.

Romans 3:31 was brought to my attention today:

“Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law.”

We know that Paul declares that the law is good; it is just and right. But what about righteousness by faith? Where does law fit with a new covenant that does away with the ten commandments?

God showed the Israelites his character through teaching them the ten commandments. The law is good, and perfect – it is God’s character, after all, and James shows us the importance of the law, but reminds us that keeping God’s law (works) is a result of faith, (James 2:14-26) and that you can’t see faith in action without the action. John, too, declared the importance of the law, but explained that all the law and character of God culminates into one commandment for us – belief in the name of Jesus Christ, and love to others (1 John 3:23).

Under the old covenant we were in bondage to the law; the ten commandments were the very terms of the old covenant. Paul, however, declares that under the new covenant our salvation is not based on obeying the law we’ll get to that now, as well as Romans 3:31.

Take a look at Romans 3:27 and read on down to verse 31 to get a little more context here:

27 Can we boast, then, that we have done anything to be accepted by God? No, because our acquittal is not based on obeying the law. It is based on faith. 28 So we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law.

29 After all, is God the God of the Jews only? Isn’t he also the God of the Gentiles? Of course he is. 30 There is only one God, and he makes people right with himself only by faith, whether they are Jews or Gentiles. 31 Well then, if we emphasize faith, does this mean that we can forget about the law? Of course not! In fact, only when we have faith do we truly fulfill the law.

– Romans 3:27-31

Notice as an aside that in the New King James (the above is from the NLT) Paul notes two laws, the law of works which we cannot boast in for our salvation, and the law of faith, which we can boast in (boasting in the saving power of Jesus). And how is the law established by faith? Faith working through love (Galatians 5:6b – … What is important is faith expressing itself in love”). Then could we not say that the law of faith is, as John put God’s command, “That we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment.” (1 John 3:23)

God’s character hasn’t changed, and that is why Paul declares that the law is good. But let’s go back to Galatians 5:16-26 briefly.

16 So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. 17 The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. 18 But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses.

19 When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, 21 envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. 25 Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. 26 Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another.

– Galatians 5:16-26

We’re called to allow the Spirit of God to work in us, and it is the Spirit of God which aligns our lives with the character of God (of course, because the Spirit of God is God, after all). In verse 16 Paul calls us to walk in the Spirit, explaining in verse 17 that the sinful nature and the Spirit of God are complete opposites, and unless we walk in the Spirit of God, we won’t ever be able to live the good ways that we wish to. But then Paul makes this statement in verse 18 – that if we walk in the Spirit, we are no longer under the law. So as important as the law is, it is ONLY important because it is the character of God. When the Spirit of God lives in us, the written law is no longer necessary, because all the lusts of the flesh that kept us from entering God’s kingdom before (verse 19-21) are the fruits of our sinful spirit, but the Spirit of God living in us produces fruits (verse 22-23) in alignment with the nature and character of God. And we know that the fruits of the Spirit do not go against the character of God, because Paul tells us there is no law against them.

Going back the 1 John 3, we find that John confirms this in verses 4-6:

Everyone who sins is breaking God’s law, for all sin is contrary to the law of God. And you know that Jesus came to take away our sins, and there is no sin in him. Anyone who continues to live in him will not sin. But anyone who keeps on sinning does not know him or understand who he is.

This is from the NLT, but I prefer the language in the New King James:

Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness. And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin. Whoever abides in Him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him.

Sin is lawlessness, and the law is God’s character. But the way out of sin isn’t by keeping the law of works (e.g.: keeping the ten commandments perfectly), as Paul said; the way out of sin is an indwelling of the Spirit of God, as John stated in verse 6, “Whoever abides in Him [Jesus] does not sin.” It isn’t that we stop sinning in order to abide in Jesus, in order to live by the Spirit and have the fruit of the Spirit in our lives, but we abide in Jesus (believe in His name and love others 1 John 3:23) and live by and walk in the Spirit so that we can be sinless. It’s Jesus, after all, that cuts away our sinful nature. And recalling that sin is lawlessness, abiding in Jesus and living/walking in the Spirit fulfills the law without our having to keep it. Lawlessness is the natural result of sin (separation from God); lawfulness is the natural result of abiding in Jesus.

Spirit of God does not live in us to merely enable us to keep the law and produce the fruit; the fruit we produce is no good! But Paul is talking about something much greater, he’s talking about the Spirit of God doing it all; it is the Holy Spirit alone who brings the change in our life from sinful, lawless nature to Godly nature, and that is how the law – God’s character, really – fits into grace.

Gifts and Fruits

(context: Galatians 5)

16 So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. 17 The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. 18 But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses.

19 When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, 21 envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. 25 Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. 26 Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another.

           – Galatians 5:16-26

I am a rock-star.

I’ve known it for quite some time, though I rarely, if ever, thought it.

I’m also a dancer. I’m moved by rhythms and vibrations. It’s just “Me”.

I wanted to say “And primarily I’m…” But whatever would follow that statement I probably would later revoke as a lie, because my immediate response to realizing my giftings and passions is to shut them right down again, usually with something along the lines of “There are much more important things to do than dance around like a fool.”

I’m not putting my paper heart out on my sleeve. But neither am I bragging. I recently heard someone declare openly what their giftings were, and my first response was something along the lines of “Please. How arrogant can you get?” But my mind didn’t stop there, because my second thought was, “Well, why not?”

The reality of my life is, those closest to me don’t really know my deep passions. They don’t know what makes my heart beat, what fills my lungs in every breath. They don’t know because I have never found the courage to trust them with things so deeply ingrained in me. My heart says “Just let it out, express yourself!” My mind says, “They won’t understand what it means to me, they won’t respect the significance of my passions,” or flat out, “They won’t care.”

I take myself too seriously. It is the most crippling of my disabilities, because I do not allow the Spirit the freedom to express Himself throughin or to me.

It’s all well and good when Christ has set me free by spiritually cutting off my sinful nature of Galatians 5:19-21, but I make the work of Christ no benefit to me by denying and disallowing the working of the Spirit of Galatians 5:22-23 that keeps me free. Ignoring Paul’s exhortations of Galatians 5:1 to not fall back under bondage to the law, I condemn the fruits of the Spirit before they even begin to ripen in me.

I’ve been largely silent here for some weeks; I spent some time pouring over the epistle of James and my faith has been tested, challenged, and developed. I’d like to say I’ve been taking time off to ponder James, but that wouldn’t be consciously true; my life virtually shut down for a while and I’ve been reduced to a state of basic function. I’ve had to realize again and still again that all my knowledge, wisdom, abilities and strengths are nothing, and if I rely on them I cannot be any greater or more functional in the Kingdom of God than they are. If I do not allow the power of the Spirit to abide in and work throughout my life, I will continue to live under the law and my own sinful nature.

You might be wondering where the passions I was talking about fit into this. You’re not alone; I’m wondering too.

I think I got it backwards, or turned around. Actually, I’m not sure how I got it, because I stepped away and lost the train of thought I had when I wrote that opening sentence. So here it is straight: my deep inner passions are not the moving of the Spirit in me, but my response to the moving of the Spirit in me. The passions of my heart are a personal strain of worship of the Lord of Lords. When I deny my passions, I deny the outcry of my heart in revere of God. These  passions I’ve had ingrained in me from the very beginning, then, are not the fruit, they are my response. I’ve recently been pondering worship, and it fits now, just what worship is really about, and how it takes shape in my own life. I’ll leave a fuller explanation of this realization for a later post, but I now have a fuller picture of what it means to be a worship leader.

Fruit of the Spirit

In light of my last post, while I was searching through my old blog looking for something entirely different, I stumbled across the post in which I recounted the story originally of what God taught me about his purity, back in April of 2011. You can read the whole post here, but here’s the original story:

A week or so ago God spoke to me about purity. As some of you know I have struggled a very long time in the area of purity. This particular day I was feeling quite discouraged, having just fallen down under my own burden of sin, and I was talking to myself, beating myself up over this incident. But then God told me something quite clearly and it was this: “I don’t want you to be pure for Me; I want to be Pure for you.”

I’m reminded once again that no longer do I have to struggle on my own; quite the opposite! Christ has now stepped in; it isn’t about me, it’s all about him and what he did for me! My works won’t and can’t earn my righteousness, but the good things I now do are because the Spirit of God lives in me, because God has written his laws in my heart and on my mind. So then the good things I do are not really my works but the works of the Spirit of God in me. I love Paul’s admonition to the Galatians to allow the Holy Spirit to guide their lives:

16 So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. 17 The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. 18 But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses.

19 When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, 21 envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. 25 Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. 26 Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another. 

                                                                          – Galatians 5:16-25

So when we allow the Holy Spirit to guide our lives, we no longer have need of the old system, the law, and we are no longer under the law when the Holy Spirit is in us. And we no longer have to worry, because when we allow the Holy Spirit to live in us, he produces goodness within us. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. And it isn’t really like I learned it under the Adventist system of thinking, that these “fruits of the spirit” were something I had to achieve, no! Paul is very clear in verse 22: “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives” AMEN! It isn’t even my responsibility to live right anymore if the Holy Spirit lives in me! And that brings me back to what God said to me: “I don’t want you to be pure for Me; I want to be Pure for you.” 

None of my effort or strength comes anywhere near to God’s matchless all-powerfulness. None of my attempts toward purity or righteousness compare at all to Christ’s robe of righteousness which he has wrapped around me. Nothing could ever be more complete or perfect than what Jesus did that day some two thousand years ago on the cross – what the Holy Spirit now does right within me. And I can only wonder: how could anyone not accept such an unmatched, priceless gift?

P.S.: I’ve been studying lately about the Sabbath of the new covenant; I’ll be writing more on that very soon.